“Dir biabir anbesa yasir.”
“If all the spiders work together to make a web, they can capture a lion.”
Dr. Haileyesus Engedashet and Dr. Daniel Hankore are both Bible translation consultants in Ethiopia. Photo by Adam Jeske
At first glance, Dr. Daniel Hankore and Dr. Haileyesus Engedashet may seem like unlikely partners in Bible translation work. They worship with different denominations, speak entirely distinct mother tongues, and work with separate organizations. Yet both are Translation Consultants, and both believe passionately in translation.
As they took turns speaking at a Bible translation awareness gathering, there was no doubt they shared a common purpose. And between sessions as they enjoyed laughter and coffee together, it was clear their friendship runs deep.
Recalling the years they spent attending graduate school together, Daniel said with a friendly slap to Haileyesus’ shoulder, “We became like family.”
Partnership brings synergy
The partnership between Haileyesus and Daniel is a piece of a larger picture across their home country of Ethiopia where partnership in Bible translation is bringing together a vast array of Christians toward a common purpose.
2009 Ethiopia CP Meetings held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by David Ringer
Partnership is not unique to Ethiopia, nor is it new in Ethiopian translation work. The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, a member of the Lutheran World Federation, invited Wycliffe staff to come to Ethiopia to help with Bible translation programs more than 30 years ago. Over the years, that partnership broadened to include other denominations and organizations.
Recently some of these partners gathered to formalize their partnership and design a Comprehensive Plan (CP) that outlines agreed upon goals and activities for language development and translation.
This partnership includes the two largest protestant denominations in the country—the Ethiopian K’ale Heywet Church (meaning “Word of Life”) and the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (meaning “Place of Jesus”). The partnership also includes The Word for the World Ethiopia; the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia (ECFE); Protestant and Orthodox churches; several organizations associated with the Wycliffe Global Alliance; and SIL Ethiopia, which brings its expertise in education and language development.
“[The partnership] has created synergy. We can do better by partnering with others than we can by ourselves unilaterally,” said Rev. Yonas Yigezu Dibisa, Director of the Department for Mission and Theology for Mekane Yesus.
Much has yet to be done
The enormity of the task of translation in Ethiopia reinforces the need for unity. Over 80 languages have been identified in Ethiopia, of which only eight have complete scriptures and nineteen have complete New Testaments.
Yilma Getahun, General Secretary for The Bible Society of Ethiopia. Photo by David Ringer
Yilma Getahun, General Secretary for The Bible Society of Ethiopia, spoke similarly. “[Partnership] starts when we see the number of languages in the country and the number of scriptures translated. It is very clear how much work needs to be done.”
One reason for partnership is to use resources wisely.
“[Alone] we cannot reach the whole nation, but if we work with different organizations we can share different skills, expertise, and it minimizes cost and time,” said Tessema Wachemo, Director of The Word for the World Ethiopia.
While efficiency in resource use is a clear advantage of partnership, Mike Bryant, the CP Manager for SIL, made the point that “partnership is most important because of the issue of ownership.”
Doug Blacksten, Deputy Director of SIL Ethiopia and the previous National CP Manager, explained, “If translations were done by one group and not the others, some groups just wouldn’t accept it.”
While the organizations share a common purpose, they each bring unique skills.
“Everyone brings to the table their strengths and their experience, and we need everyone in the group for developing a language, [translating the Bible], publishing it, and finally making it available to the community,” said Dr. Tesfaye Yacob, National CP Manager and former General Secretary for the K’ale Heywot Church.
Focusing on common goals
No relationships come without challenges, though. The past decade in Ethiopia has seen splits within denominations as well as confusion over responsibilities among different organizations and disappointments over funding expectations.
Dr. Daniel Hankore fields questions. Photo by Adam Jeske
At the workshop, Haileyesus and Daniel fielded difficult questions on the differences between denominations.
“If we work together and resolve our problems it will be better than pointing fingers at one another,” Daniel said afterward. “We must protect our unity.” In order to achieve this unity, he advised, “Look not at your own identity; look at the common goals.”
Tessema Wachemo agreed that they must focus on the urgency of the task. “People are dying and losing their opportunities before they hear the word of God in their mother tongue,” he said. “[Bible translation] is not an optional ministry, it is mandatory.”
Read a longer version of Partners in Translation.
Editor’s note: Christine Jeske and her husband Adam have served as development workers in Nicaragua, China, and South Africa. She recently published a book called, Into the Mud–Inspiration for Everyday Activists. This story was originally written for the Wycliffe News Network.
Learn more about the Ethiopia Comprehensive Project.
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